Today, patients, families, and advocates rallied outside Governor Cuomo's Manhattan office to urge the Governor to sign a bill that would expedite access to medical marijuana for critically ill patients. In June, with overwhelming bipartisan support, both houses of the legislature passed A.7060 (Gottfried) / S.5086 (Griffo), directing the state to establish a program to help critically ill patients obtain emergency access to medical marijuana as soon as possible. The bill was delivered to Governor on October 30th. He has until November 11th to sign or veto the bill; if he does neither, it will become law.
The bill instructs the state to issue patient cards to qualified, critically ill patients as soon as possible, making it clear that they are medical marijuana patients and affording them some protection from law enforcement and child protective services.
"We've been waiting an outrageous 15 months for expedited access to medical marijuana," said Missy Miller of Atlantic Beach, whose son Oliver suffers from life-threatening seizures. "Every day we wait is a day I watch my son lose ground. We can't afford any more delays. And delays seem likely considering I have not heard even one word about how to register my son for this program and many of the dispensaries are having difficulties securing their sites. Governor Cuomo should finally do the right thing and sign the bill so families like mine can get long awaited help."
People living with HIV/AIDS stood in solidarity with those advocating for emergency access outside the Governor's Office, recalling a time when they were also denied access to life-saving medications.
"I've lived for 20 years with HIV, and I know that's only possible because activists fought so hard to get access to vital medications when the government was not moving fast enough. These medications made it possible for me to watch my kids grow up and make me a grandmother. As an activist, a mother and a grandmother, I will not stand by and watch children suffer and die because politics trumps their humanity. Governor Cuomo needs to make medical marijuana available now before more lives are lost," said VOCAL Board Chair, Wanda Hernandez Parks of the Bronx.
Since the medical marijuana law passed a year ago, not one patient in New York has been able to access medical marijuana. Tragically, at least four children who would have likely benefited from it have died while waiting to obtain this much-needed medicine. Just last month, longtime medical marijuana advocate Beverly McClain, who had metastatic cancer, passed away without ever benefiting from the law she helped pass.
"With less than three months to go before New York's medical marijuana program is slated to roll out, I'm really concerned that there could be delays in the program," said Maryanne Houser of Suffern. "My daughter Amanda has been waiting since July of 2014 when she stood next to Governor Cuomo at the bill signing and he promised to help her. He can help her now by signing the emergency access bill."
New York's medical marijuana program is slated to become operational in January of 2016, but some fear that program will not come on line as scheduled. The state has yet to launch a system for patients to register and just unveiled the mandatory doctor training in mid-October.
"As a doctor and the parent of a child with a seizure disorder, I'm disappointed the state hasn't acted sooner to get medicine to the critically ill," said Amy Piperato, M.D., of Thiells. "With the physician training just coming online a few weeks ago and still no system for registering patients, I'm convinced the program won't be operational in January. The Governor should sign this bill so critically ill patients can get access as soon as possible."
Recent media accounts suggest that several of the planned dispensaries are having trouble finalizing sites. With only 20 dispensaries statewide for almost 20 million people across 54,000 square miles, the failure of even one dispensary to open is problematic, especially to those who are critically ill.
"If one of the twenty dispensaries fails to open in January, that could pose a real hardship for patients who may already be facing drives over an hour to access the medicine," said Kathy Annable of Marcellus whose daughter suffers from severe seizures. "My daughter Kaylie cannot keep waiting. We need an emergency access system so that people in life-threatening situations, like my daughter, can get medicine immediately."
Currently, those with terminal or critical illnesses and their families are forced to break the law, move to a state where medical marijuana is legally available, or watch their loved ones suffer knowing that there is a medication that could help them.
"It's long past time for the Governor to act," said Julie Netherland, deputy state director at the Drug Policy Alliance. "Patients in New York are suffering, and some patients' lives are at risk everyday they are forced to wait. For the Governor to veto a bill designed to help the sick and dying is unconscionable. Governor Cuomo cannot keep turning his back on seriously ill New Yorkers. He needs to sign this bill into law today."